It's a crying shame

My best dress has been eaten by moths, and it's my own fault

When I was 18 I saw my sister cry for the first time that I could recall. My Parisian aunt, who really should have been more careful, had shut the car door on my sister's cashmere coat, leaving its hem pinched and striped with grease. My sister's tears were of anger and frustration, but not even a hand did I offer to console her. Instead I sat and watched, full of disdain. "You never cried when Mamma went to hospital," I spat. "And here you are crying over a stupid coat."

I had hardened myself never to cry over mere objects, ever since I'd lost my childhood charm bracelet, each charm marking a stage in my young life, in 18ct gold. Its disappearance stung deeply and I vowed then never to get that upset over an object ever again. So I had no sympathy for my sister, and I have, since that day, never fretted over lost or broken material goods.

I try to teach my daughter this, too. She cries really big tears over the even momentary loss of a teddy/favoured notebook/clip-on earrings that she got free on the cover of some awful, pink magazine (that nevertheless costs £2.50). "Don't cry over things," I say, trying to be sage.

Today I realised that this is a load of rubbish. Some things really matter, not in the grand scheme of things, but in your own little universe, where things are relative. These "mere objects" either hold memories of the good times you had in them, or the promise of fun yet to come. Maybe they represent a real find, or a month's wages. Or in my case nearly all three. Keen readers may remember me writing, last year, about the best dress of all time, a wonderful, cut-by-a-genius Whistles dress. Not long after that, I wrote about moths and how to protect against them. Store precious items of clothing in garment bags, I said. So I should have known better than to leave it unprotected.

The bastard moths got it. They could have grazed on many parts of the dress: the hem, down the side, under one of the magnificent folds, so expertly stitched. But no, instead they had munched right across the chest, rendering the woven wool into fishnet. It's really silly to cry about a dress, so I didn't. But I was really, foot-stampingly, double angry: angry once about the dress, twice for being so ludicrously upset when there are bigger things in the world to trigger tears. Everyone's response was surprising. No one was as hard on me as I had been on my sister all those years ago. Instead, tales spilled forth of their own sartorial losses to moths over the years.

"It's OK," one said, "to get that upset over a dress. Some things are physical manifestations of emotions that are worthy of being explored." Blimey, I thought, it's just a dress with some holes in it. I'll take it to the invisible menders. Er, no. They quoted me £235 to repair the moth damage. Cue tears . . .

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, High-street robbery